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Jean LANGLAIS (1907-1991)
Esquisse gothique No. 3 pour 2 orgues [8'41]
Esquisse gothique No. 2 pour 2 orgues [3'26]
Esquisse romane No. 3 pour 2 orgues [6'47]
Oh qui viens, Seigneur Jésus [6'32]
La Cinquieme trompette [12'49]
Il était, Le est, et Il vient [10'25]
Double Fantaisie pour 2 organistes [9'22]
2ème Fantaisie pour 2 organistes [6'14]
3ème Fantaisie pour 2 organistes [5'32]
Marie-Louise Langlais and Sylvie Mallet, organ
Rec: Hofkirche, Luzern 2003 DDD
FESTIVO 6961.962 [69'48]


I confess, like many organists I think, to being an arch-sceptic when it comes to the late organ works of Jean Langlais. The problem, as I see it, is simply that Langlais wrote so much music, (Marie-Louise Langlais comments in her notes than Langlais wrote no fewer than 1668 pages of organ music and that that only constitutes 40% of his total output!), that I can't bring myself to believe that more than a few pieces could be worth playing. So I was curious whether I would find a programme of Langlais pieces from the 1970s dull, or whether I would find them - to quote once again Marie-Louise Langlais- "creative, innovative and misunderstood".

The first thing to say about this new recording from Festivo is that it is superbly played. Marie-Louise Langlais, the Moroccan-born widow and former student of Jean Langlais is a really first rate advocate of his music. She is joined by her former student Sylvie Mallet in the pieces for two organs, and for two players at one organ. The programme is built around the challenging 3rd of the 'Cinq Méditations sur l'Apocalypse', 'La Cinquième Trompette'. This is Langlais at his most atonal, in a dramatic commentary on the text of Revelation 9. Not for nothing did Olivier Messiaen consider this to be Langlais's finest work, and although I miss, as with all of Langlais's later music, an identifiable harmonic language such as that of Messiaen, the work does pay repeated listening.  Other works in this collection are less challenging for the listener, for example the 3rd Esquisse Gothique, built in the form of an Estampie. Elsewhere Gregorian chant, unsurprisingly is the key influence.

The organs chosen here are the instruments in the Hofkirche in Luzern. The larger organ, (5/84), is essentially a 1970s organ of Kuhn, but including 17th century pipes from Geissler, and 32 complete stops of Hass, (whom Cavaillé-Coll is known to have admired), from 1859-62. The whole is housed in a curious 17th century case, the 32' Principal of the Pedal dwarfing the 4' Ruckpositive. Madame Langlais explains in admirable detail the choice of organs; her argument is persuasive, and I find the instruments well suited to the music. There is a little of the mid-European neutrality common among factory builders throughout the continent today, but the organ has enough character, sheer power and quality solo stops to raise it above the average. It has been well captured here.

The qualities of much of Langlais's late music remain elusive for me I must admit, but there is much to admire in this release, not least the excellent playing and the programme notes which are full of fascinating insight.

Chris Bragg


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